Types of Psychology Graduate Programs

Psychology graduate degrees afford students various specialization opportunities. Learn more about the degrees, what it takes to get one and more.

November 5, 2021

Types of  Psychology Graduate Programs

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A Guide to Psychology Specializations and Graduate Programs

The following guide reviews the various degree paths and tips for finding the right program, highlights prospective careers and provides insider knowledge from a working psychology graduate.

Psychology focuses on the mind and behavior, and how factors like culture, society and the economy affect individuals and groups of people. While careers in psychology vary from direct service roles to research and academic positions, those with a graduate degree in psychology are better able to pursue specific licenses and practice in their chosen field.

Find the Right Psychology Graduate Degree Concentration

The types of psychology graduate degrees available are as unique as the individuals they intend to serve, with specialized programs available to students hoping to work in various areas. Whether planning to complete a master’s or doctorate level degree, the following programs are well-matched to a spectrum of research areas and interests.

Master’s Degrees

Doctorate Degrees

Searching for the Right Psychology Program

Once a student identifies the branch of psychology they want to pursue, the next step is finding a program matched to their criteria. Prospective programs need to check off multiple boxes relating to accreditation, faculty interests, success rates, and licensure preparation. The following list helps students see how potential schools measure up to their needs.

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Psychology Graduate Degree

Whether at the point of applying or already enrolled in a program, prospective and current psychology students should keep a list of all the requirements situated between admission and graduation. Some of the biggest points on the timeline are highlighted below.

The majority or programs require students to complete both the GRE and the psychology subject exam at a satisfactory level to be considered for admission, while other departments may also require a MAT score. Candidates should give themselves ample time to study for these tests, typically at least 12 weeks. The FAFSA®, the federal government’s funding application, can be filled out on the first day of each new year, with funds awarded on a rolling basis. Aside from federal grants and loans, students should also research any potential programmatic fellowships or STEM-related scholarships. One of the most important steps after being accepted is finding a suitable faculty advisor, as this person will have significant input and impact on a student’s area of research, thesis and capstone project. Comprehensive exams stand between a student and their future dissertation, requiring them to show mastery of a subject before being allowed to continue in the program. Comps are comprised of an essay component, an oral presentation and test, whether or not a student has digested course information properly throughout their program. Master’s level psychology students often have the option to complete either a thesis or comprehensive exams, although some departments require both. Conversely, doctoral students are expected to complete a full-length dissertation. Theses differ from dissertations in that they normally don’t require the student to complete original research. Ranging from 40-80 pages, these projects are completed during the final year of study. Another option often presented to graduate students is completing a capstone project, which is more experiential in nature. The overarching goal is for a student to demonstrate their ability to bring together various concepts and design an intensive project. Examples include case studies, theoretical evaluations, community engagement projects or a creative research project. The majority of fieldwork placements take place at the undergraduate level, but many graduate level programs require an internship component for students to meet requirements for supervised hours. The length of these placements will vary by type and level of degree.

Ask a Graduate: 8 Tips for Pursuing Psychology Degrees

Some of the best information prospective psychology graduate students can receive is from those who have gone before them and been successful in their careers. After successfully completing a master’s degree in counseling, Frank Healy has worked in a variety of academic and direct service roles. Keep reading for his insider knowledge and top tips for students considering psychology as a profession.

It’s important for prospective students to find a master’s degree program that will provide a combination of counseling courses alongside at least one course on professional ethics, which is vital to helping pass the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) examination. When it is time to complete fieldwork, students should pick a place that is similar to where they want to work after graduation. For example, if they want to be a therapist in an inpatient setting, pick a hospital. If they want to counsel in a collegiate setting, find out if their college counseling center takes interns. Doing fieldwork provides students with potential references when seeking employment and could even lead to a job after graduation. Students should make good connections with their professors and other psychology professionals when completing fieldwork. They could be the ones that supervise them when seeking licensure later on. Stay open to multiple possibilities of work. For example, I taught, did case management and counseled at the same time for a few years. Students can get counseling jobs in community or private mental health centers with a bachelor’s degree and no license. However, many organizations want these employees to work toward their master’s degree, and eventually licensing, while working there. This is a good thing, because most people who work in the field want to advance their careers. When you get your license, more options are available. Unlicensed psychologists can see clients who use Medicare insurance, while those with a license can see clients with any commercial insurance.
7. Don’t forget about the licensure exam As candidates accumulate hours of supervised work toward their license, they should start studying for their exam. Although I did not have to take it, a few years later I borrowed a coworker’s study guide to learn more. While still in graduate school, students should start to think about areas where they may want to specialize. These decisions often dictate the type of licensure you pursue: individuals who want to work in substance abuse pursue an LADC, those with interest in mental health counseling work toward an LPC, while those with a passion for social work aim for an LCSW.

Spotlight on Psychology Careers

true Mental Health Counselors $31,942 to $61,454 19%

Mental Health Counselors serve a variety of clients experiencing mental health issues in settings ranging from hospitals and schools to prisons and community health centers.

true Marriage and Family Therapists $30,510 to $78,920 19%

Marriage and Family Therapists help couples experiencing discord in their marriages to understand one another’s feelings and seek resolve. They also help their family members – often children – process emotions.

true Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $51,970 to $145,480 19%

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists use their knowledge of human motivations and business to help companies create dynamic and productive working environments for both employers and employees.

true Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors $25,310 to $61,420 22%

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors help their clients overcome additions to drugs, alcohol, eating disorders or other activity that harms themselves or others.

true School Counselors $40,080 to $113,640 8%

School Counselors work with children to sort through personal issues or problems at home. These professionals are dedicated to helping children find ways to not only cope, but succeed.

Additional Resources

With 56 divisions of psychology and topical areas recognized by the American Psychological Association, prospective students may feel overwhelmed when it comes time to pick a specialty. The following list of resources provides an overview of the field and highlights some specific areas of practice.

AAFP is the education and training arm of the American Board of Forensic Psychology. The organization sponsors an Early Career Scholarship Program. Students aspiring to work in a counseling role can find detailed information on the field as well as information about potential careers. Individuals considering a career as a psychiatrist can find research about the field and necessary steps for licensure. The largest organization representing psychology, the APA provides a number of valuable resources for students considering a career in the field. This group, which is part of the APA, serves as an advocacy body for graduate students enrolled in psychology degree programs. This niche group is devoted to using evolutionary theory in business, medicine and more, and provides a list of resources and publications for interested students. Among other resources, this professional body has a symposium for students interested in the intersection of psychology and the Asian American community. Student members of AASP have access to numerous student-led initiatives, special interest groups, video resources, conferences, and awards. The APS offers grants, mentorship and internships to help students get involved in the field of psychology while pursuing their degree. The ARP offers newsletters, journals, awards and general resources focused on how personality factors into psychological theory. This organization serves as a central body for societies focused on the fields of behavioral psychology and brain sciences, providing students with an overarching view of the field. HP offers lots of helpful information for prospective health psychology students, including a handy FAQ section on training and an early career professionals podcast. A membership site where students can review academic publications and peruse job listings, the IACCP offers signups for the students here. The IAAP offers focused information for graduate applied psychology students, including relevant research studies and available awards. Students interested in pursuing research on how positivity affects psychological issues can find many resources on the IPPA website. The NASP website provides helpful information for students studying school psychology, and has an entire section dedicated to graduate students. The NIMH awards a number of graduate scholarships each year to exceptional students and also curates a list of relevant resources. Students can find an array of scholarships and awards along with a list of illuminating publications. This popular publication covers topics from all corners of psychology and helps introduce students to common themes and issues within the field. This society offers a special membership for clinical psychology students, and access to a number of awards, resources and publications tailored to their interests. SIOP has a variety of grants and awards for students pursuing industrial-organizational psychology degrees, as well as an internship listing and job board. SOHP offers a list of institutions offering occupational health psychology degrees, career resources and job listings. Students can find awards, resources and events geared toward helping them become social psychologists, as well as general information about the field. Many states have their own psychological associations offering special benefits and programs for students, as demonstrated by the state of Tennessee’s active association. Since 1904, SEP has provided various resources for experimental psychologists, including a range of awards and fellowships.

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